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by John Hendrie

Starbucks, once the darling of brand excellence, devalued, and now on an ascension, was never about the coffee. It was about the experience in a Starbuck's location - the colors, the texture, the sounds, smells, comfort and safety - a cornucopia for the senses.

We are all consumers, and your staff, no matter the type of hospitality business - lodgings, restaurants, attractions, entertainment or retail stores- understand authenticity, appeal to the senses and the role of expectations in framing and delivering on the guest experience. But, sometimes, you, the manager, must synthesize and bring it home to your establishment and recommit your team to your message and business.

The more they know and are aware, the better they can forge the proper relationship and rapport with your guest. It is about behaviors, shaped with information and driven by excellence!

This is a helpful diagnostic template for your discussion:

I. | Construct a model and dimensions of the guest for your business.

  • Each experience is unique, yet can show some similarities - the unexpected, the thrill, the added touch, the additional effort, etc. Have your staff share their own experiences and identify, for themselves, what was special, out of the norm, exceptional, certainly memorable, etc.
  • Talk about what your guest feedback mechanisms are saying. You have gained this powerful information from Comment Cards, on-line surveys or Mystery Shoppers and Assessment Companies, even social media commentary.
  • Have your staff create a demographic profile of your guest: their age, sex, race, professions, etc. A forty year old female professional requires a different approach than that a twenty two year old college student.
  • Identify the local competition, for you are all after that same slice of business and consumer. Expand this to a 30-50 mile radius, discussing the advantages and negatives of your specific business and the community in which you reside. Throw in a word or two about chain or flag companies and their benefits (standards, few surprises, a known entity) versus those of the independents and their chance to promote the differences.
  • Talk about what is happening in the marketplace. The landscape has changed dramatically. The economy suffered mightily, savings have been tapped, disposable income has shrunk and decisions of what to spend and where are under intense scrutiny. Understand, your typical guest may be bloodied and bruised in some fashion.

II. | Have your staff help create your Guest Profile from the above discussion. No doubt it would include, but not limited to, some of the following your guest is seeking:

  • Value for the dollar
  • Safety/Sanctuary
  • Comfort
  • Excitement/Entertainment/Fun
  • Respect
  • Feeling Special

III. | Identify a strategy, which, given the vagaries of the marketplace, should include: "Retain the ones who love you and turn them into raving, craving Ambassadors". Why, you might ask?

  • It is easier to retain an existing customer than attract a new one, and
  • Good news travels quickly on the hospitality grapevine (as does bad news).

IV. | Enunciate that tri-pod which frames any guest experience: Facility, Product and Service. Emphasize that the experience is influenced by:

  • All the senses (sight, smell, sound, touch and taste). Have your staff identify examples which evoke these reactions, hopefully within your type of business.
  • Expectations, either diminished or enhanced by first impressions. These could be from your web site, collateral material in the community, what people have said, or the actual time spent on your property or venue.

V. | Take each of those guest experience aspects and elaborate:

  • Facility: Take a hard look, externally and internally. On the outside: from the parking lot, to landscaping to walkways to building siding and paint. On the inside: from the walls to the carpet to the furniture, look at dirt, grime and stains. Consider your ambiance (an enhancement or distraction): music, air conditioning, noise (conversational or kitchen clamor) level and lighting. The condition of your rest rooms can be a deal breaker.
  • Product: Even Starbucks, mentioned earlier, needed a decent product (coffee) as part of their mystical mix. No matter what you are selling (rooms, food and beverage, tickets to ride, tee shirts or culture), your product must have some value, definition and reliability. It may be based upon preparation, like a fine meal, or architecture, like a serpentine water slide or design, like your guestroom suite or thread count for your linens. Do not forget the power of presentation: the cleanliness and amenities in your bathrooms, or the creative ensemble of your chef's specialty or your merchandising of moccasins.
  • Service: This facet is not only the great equalizer but also differentiator. This is the stabilizer of the tri-pod, and, when the other two legs begin to tremble or bend, service provides the girder to greatness. Service is built around "touch points", our interactions with our guest and the opportunity to shape a relationship which can be memorable. It first starts with how our staff present themselves to the guest - personal hygiene, cosmetics, jewelry, perfumes and the state of the uniform. Every Job Classification has key elements to the proper performance for that position. Some are mechanical (table setting, keying-in information, stocking shelves). Others (transactions, if you will) involve the rapport we establish with our guest (the order-taking by our server, the check-in by the Front Desk, the welcome at Reception, how a complaint is handled). Take your staff through these steps, establish standards, behaviors and protocols, practice these all the time, and then be ready to talk about rewards.

VI. | What's in it for me - your staff member? One reality is continued employment, whether it be full-time, part-time, contractual or shift work. Secondly, for those who are eligible for commission or gratuity, there is the opportunity for acknowledged reward. No matter their position in your business, certain staff behaviors will enhance prospects for a memorable guest experience:

  • Smile. This simple facial contraction sets the stage for relationship building. It shows you care, are accessible and welcoming. Plus, a smile is contagious! Steady eye contact is helpful, too.
  • Simple courtesy. A "Thank you", "Yes, sir", "May I get that for you", and "You are welcome" is almost as foreign as Chaucer's English.
  • Optimize the "touch points", without being overwhelming or overbearing. Be aware of the guest dynamic - perhaps it is an intimate dinner, or a business discussion, or the guest is in a rush.
  • Knowledge of your product.
  • Knowledge of your area or community. We are all ambassadors, and we hope our current guest returns.
  • Opportunity for Up-selling and cross-selling - their chance to "accessorize" the experience results in a higher check, tab or receipt.

The above Guest Experience Template does not answer all the questions or concerns of today's hospitality manager. Everything is moving so quickly.  However, the staff discussion and the participation which occurs is invaluable and will place you in a favorable posture for the changing hospitality marketplace.

About John Hendrie

John Hendrie believes that Retail success comes from proper management of and commitment to the Customer Experience. He helps to guide his clients through that challenging customer dynamic, looking at branding and marketing strategies, which match their market expectations, providing training and development programs to emphasize the behavioral and the mechanics of service execution, and designing assessment vehicles to evaluate the efforts and results. Remarkable Performance is sustainable!  Seek solutions at:  www.Hospitalityperformance.com

Contact: John R. Hendrie

978 346-4367

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